Monthly Archives: May 2005

The Kiss

New York: Walking through the New York ACORN office in Brooklyn organizers would look for an excuse to ask me if I had seen “the kiss.”  An up and coming politician from Westchester elected with support from the Working Family Party, which we support in New York, also asked me about it.  The kiss was the buzz!

 Seems ACORN’s New York Executive Director Bertha Lewis had laid a big wet one on New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a grand announcement that we had reached a deal with the huge Forest City Ratner Companies CEO Bruce Ratner and his Atlantic Yards development.  Bruce Ratner has been in the news working backwards from the Sports section because of his purchase of the New Jersey Nets and his announced intention to build an arena for them to pay in Brooklyn.  Of all places! 

 Except here was ACORN joining the City and Mayor Bloomberg and Bruce Ratner and his operations along with a crowd of 25 other Brooklyn and NYC pols saying that we would stand up and support a huge Squamish-sized footprint of a development in the middle of Brooklyn.  And, Bertha was laying a smooch on Republican Billionaire Mayor Mike.  What’s up?

 It was all about housing and the signed and sealed commitment by Ratner with City financing that half of the 4500 units or about 2200 or so would be built as affordable housing for low and moderate income New Yorkers.  After months of hard handled negotiations a breakthrough agreement had been reached on a whole series of significant community benefits and standards which would benefit Brooklyn and our communities from hiring to contracting to day care and back again, but the centerpiece was affordable housing in one of the world’s most expensive cities.  Ismene Spiliotis, director of ACORN Housing in New York, and Jon Kest, New York ACORN’s head organizer had reported consistently that the deal was on, then off, then on, and back and forth until finally all of the pieces came together, which led to the final agreement followed by the announcement. 

 These are tough calculations.  One does not get to simply celebrate the accomplishment, because ACORN in New York had to continually weigh the impact of a couple of thousand families having affordable housing right in downtown Brooklyn against the likelihood of hundreds of critics who would be carping that about this, that, or the other.  Even the best agreement is never a perfect agreement after all.  Not that something is left on the table, but there are many great proposals that die on the table, failing to win agreement.  It turns out that the price of power sometimes is also being able to stand up to the backwash, even when one wins the nearly impossible.

 So, it’s hard on the run up and it’s hard on the downside, but that shouldn’t take away from the exhilaration of the moment. 

 Bertha gave the Mayor a big fat buss with the cameras clicking.  That’s ok with me.  They will never seeing us kiss his backside, so there’s no sense in hiding our happiness face forward.

The Kiss.

Water Wars Come to Mexico

Mexico City:  It was a last minute invitation from fellow travelers in the water wars from Canada with the Polaris Institute who issued the call to meet with community based and indigenous groups from around Mexico meeting to look at the emerging issues of water privatization.  There was no way to say no.

  Landing on a Sunday afternoon to a torrent of last minute warnings that the old hotel across from the Alameda Central, where the conference was housed, was right on the march route sent the international “guests” worrying about being caught up in mad demonstrations.  This was the Sunday a million supporters of the PRD Mayor of Mexico City marched in total silence to the Zocalo in the enter of the city, which finally forced President Fox to can his Attorney General and redraw the trivial charges designed to remove immunity from the popular Mayor and prevent him from standing as a favorite in the next presidential election.   The symbol of the marchers was a square, white face mask, similar to what one sees so frequently in Japanese trains and airports.  Running in the Alameda that Monday morning, I could see in the pre-dawn masks over the mouths of nude statues facing the park in a magnified sense of silence.

  The conference was quickly oversubscribed as close to 300 showed up from all over Mexico when organizers had hoped for half of that.  The stories were interesting on the international side as speaker after speaker from Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru — our fighting partners from FENTAP — Salvador, and Bolivia joined with veterans of water wars in the US and Canada to share information in common about multi-national companies seeking to privatize at any cost precious, public resources.  On the second day as I was leaving from this short, but encouraging visit, a number of speakers from urban and grassroots organizations as well as indigenous communities were speaking of the issues they were encountering around access to affordable and safe water. 

  The privateers seem to be moving into the water wars in Mexico now.  There were half-dozen cities mentioned where bids for private operations of water were not critical issues including Cancun among others.  This is bad news for Mexico.  I told the story of our labor-community coalition and its fight to prevent water privatization in New Orleans in halting Spanish and simple English.  Today’s (May 15th) front page Times-Picayune story about an alleged bribe from a defeated bidder quoted me more eloquently than I was in Mexico City in saying the following:

  “Any time you allow private interests into something that has to do with the public good, you take the risk there will be self-aggrandizement instead of public service,” said union organizer Wade Rathke, a leader of the Coalition on Sewerage & Water Board, a consortium of community, labor and environmental groups that opposed privatization.” 

  All of this is a prologue to the World Water Forum that is coming to Mexico City in 2006 to “showcase” big corporations and big government collusion and cooperation in such enterprises.  Listening to representatives of community after community in Mexico recently, one can tell the reception committee is forming for this Forum, and it will not be welcoming.

These are pictures of the Water Meeting in Mexico City.